Pros: Dedicated catering companies are literally pros; to hire one is to put your party in the hands of someone who knows their way around a chafing dish. “The word 'catering' means a lot of different things to different people,” says John Bagge, president of 40-year-old Kirkland company Twelve Baskets Catering (twelvebasketscatering.com). If you want it all from soup to nuts, they’ve got, well, everything from chowder to cashews. His staff can also coordinate table rentals, staffing, and bar service. All that know-how doesn’t mean settling for rubber chicken; Twelve Baskets’ popular hors d’oeuvres include locally sourced vegan ceviche and taro chips. No matter your party’s unique demands—mondo wedding in a venue without drinkable water, anyone?—caterers have probably seen it before.
Cons: When dinner comes from a kitchen that can serve hard-boiled eggs or andouille-stuffed mushrooms, an event caterer is unlikely to deliver the specificity and name-brand recognition of a local restaurant.
Pros: It’s no longer a novelty, but a food truck parked on the party premises still adds a cool factor. Sure, outfits like Jemil’s Big Easy (jemilsbigeasy.com) can do large-scale food orders without the actual vehicle (Russell Wilson digs the fried catfish spread the Seahawks order before home games), but the boxy trucks are a cheery backdrop. “The crew is happy, they’re shouting things at each other. They’re as much part of the entertainment as the band,” says catering coordinator Robbin Nelson. There’s little mess when the party fare is served out the window, and the vendors have usually honed their specialties, like Jemil’s blackened fish and jambalaya. “It takes a lot of stress out of throwing a party,” says chef Jemil Johnson.
Cons: Some people mistake a food truck for cheap eats, says Nelson; “We’re not talking your standard chicken and beef. We’re talking crawfish and shrimp.” Clients pay for truck travel time and street-parking permits, and though the crew drives off with their own dirty dishes, they’re not there to clean the rental hall.
Pros: Think outside the corner booth; many buzzy dining destinations are happy to create a massive to-go order. “I hate to say it, but I think restaurants do better food than catering companies,” says Brianna Diener, operations manager at West Seattle’s Ma’ono (maonoseattle.com). By reserving party-sized takeout in advance, you’re guaranteed dishes that may sell out during normal service, like Ma’ono’s whole fried chickens. Though restaurants are focused in-house, big orders can earn special treatment; Diener notes they’ll prep a kalua pork dish not found on the regular menu.
Cons: Feeding 100—most restaurants can handle that. But 1,000? Likely beyond the capacity of a business used to dishing two- and four-tops. “People can really go after fried chicken,” says Diener.